On Both Having & Being a Wife

For a while now, we’ve been getting requests to talk about what being a wife means from a queer perspective. And I’m beyond thrilled that Miranda stepped up and wrote about the issue of both having and being a wife. You’ll remember Miranda from her Wedding Undergraduate post where she realized why she was getting married in the first place when she got in a car crash (if you haven’t read that post, go and do that, because re-reading it made me cry). But today, Miranda tackles wife, and I am grateful. Because I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time around the LGBTQ community, as a member of an LGBTQ synagogue, I feel like I constantly am forced to question what our partnership is and should be. I have to think about the parts of traditional partnership I want to embrace, and the parts that I want to reject. And because of that, I think our marriage is stronger. Which means, for those of you following along at home, I totally just said that gay marriage makes my marriage stronger. Take that religious right. WHAT.

And with that, I bring to Miranda, rocking it.

Okay, so here’s something that I’ve been rolling around for awhile: the term wife.

I think it’s something that we’ve all considered if we’ve considered marriage.  What will it be like to be a wife?  Will being a “wife” change who I am?  Will it change other people’s perceptions of me when my spouse refers to me as “wife”?

At my wedding, people kept saying, “You’re a wife! Isn’t it strange? Did you ever think you would be a wife?”  Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about being a wife, and most of the time I just laughed and said, “It’s less strange to BE a wife than it is to HAVE a wife!”

When we were engaged, I had a new and sort of simpler reality when talking about my relationship than I’d had before.  Instead of “girlfriend,” which told people either “Hey, I’m totally gay” or “I have a friend and she is female and we evidently do stuff together sometimes,” I could now use “fiancee” which conveniently sounds exactly like “fiance”.  It’s not that I needed or even wanted to hide my partner’s gender; it was just that this was the first opportunity I had to do so while still being honest.  I didn’t have to consider the company or my safety or people’s reactions when talking to friends of friends or clients at work or people I’d just met who were making small talk.  Small talk could stay small talk.  “Oh yeah, my fiancee’s cat and my cat are starting to get along pretty well,” could be a conversation just about our cats.

Now we’re married and unfortunately for the comfort that earlier subtlety had provided, “wife” is spelled AND pronounced very differently from “husband.” Funny that.Now, if I want to refer to the person I am married to, I have a few options: wife, partner, spouse.  And let’s be honest: none of these are subtle.  When was the last time you heard someone in a heterosexual marriage refer to their husband or their wife as their spouse? Not often.  I have heard it used in regular conversation only a handful of times, and it went something like this: “So, Larry, how’s your sister and her…uh, spouse?”  There’s the pause, the hesitation, the “Is this the right term to use? Am I being politically correct?”

And then there’s “partner.”  I appreciate how many people are trying to bring “partner” into the mainstream (Editors note: David and I refer to each other as ‘my partner’ at least half the time, and I totally encourage other mixed gender couples to do the same. Pow! Simple steps to equality).  It’s the one term that it seems a lot of people are trying to use, and I think it’s often the most accurate. I mean, I DO often feel that Turtle is my partner, my partner in crime, my partner in fun, my partner in sexy sexy ways.  That’s a lot of what marriage is, right? Finding your PARTNER.  That said, the term “life partner” makes me want to gag, and, yes, the term partner can get confusing when there might also exist a business partner.  On top of that, one person at the APW meetup said, “Partner is just so DRY.”  And maybe we can change that by using it a lot, but… it’s still a work in progress.  Because until everyone is using it, it’s still separate but not equal.

So that brings us to wife. Wife has no subtlety.  Wife tells people who I am, and what my relationship is to Turtle.  There is no second-guessing, no confused curiosity (“um… you mean business wife?” is not really an issue); it is quite clear what I mean.

And so it’s interesting, with all of this in mind, to notice the habits I have fallen into when referring to her.

When I am filling out information on an application or medical form and I have to put down our “relation”, I always say spouse.  When I talk to straight people that I only sort of know or am just meeting, I always say wife.  And when I meet other gay couples… I always say partner.

For awhile this confused and sort of embarrassed me.  I mean, you guys!  We’re married! We have a marriage license and share health insurance (and are taxed on it, but oh well) and can even do our taxes as married (oh, um, at least we can in Massachusetts. Funny story).  Bitterness about all of that aside, Turtle is technically my wife, and it seemed like, by falling back on “partner,” I was hiding that.  So recently, Turtle asked me, “What is that ABOUT?”

Here’s what I finally realized: As a group of people who don’t automatically have permission to marry, GLBTQ folks HAVE to think about marriage and what it means to us.  We have to think about marriage if we’re doing it or not doing it.  Are we on the side of the people fighting for gay marriage/marriage equality, or are we on the side of “marriage is not the important issue here”?  Even if we’re not planning to do it, even if we’re not in a relationship, if we have considered a relationship with someone of the same gender, if we have considered that our sexual orientation is not straight, I think we have considered some of the societal repercussions of being open about it.  And for many, many of us, it means not having the legal right to marry.

As my wife says, “even though in Massachusetts, I’m married to my wife, in Kentucky Sue and Jane might be married in their hearts but not in the eyes of the law.”

So I say partner because I want to be on Sue and Jane’s side.  I want to support the people who can’t get married, but who have someone they would marry if they could, and I want to support the people who are staying out of this whole marriage business until it’s all figured out (the “it’s only marriage when it’s federally recognized, so why bother in just one state” side).  When I say partner, I say it because it’s a word that expresses who Turtle is to me, and it does so quite accurately to the people I say it to.  And when I say wife, I hope that I am coming out to someone who maybe didn’t consider that I could have  a wife.  I am hoping that someone will maybe ask the next person what their fiancee does without using gendered pronouns.  I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.

I still struggle a bit with wife.  The word itself brings to mind a fifties housewife, and that is not at all how I see myself or my wife.  But the more I use the word, the more I reference my wife (“I need to check in with my wife!” “Oh, my wife is picking up our dinner.” “My wife and I are going on vacation.”), the more it becomes mine, and the more it describes the person I need it to: my wife.

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  • This is such a great piece! Vocabulary is much more significant than we sometimes give it credit. Here’s to many years for you to get used to saying wife, and for other women to win the right to say it literally.

    • Hear hear. I’m really careful about the words that I use, whether I’m referring to someone or explaining something or expressing how I feel about something in an argument. It makes me feel silly sometimes, but words are extremely important, especially in such a verbose culture.

    • Agree. The words we use have implications whether we mean them to or not. It’s easy to cause a little pain or show support just by changing the words ever so slightly. The more we become conscious of our vocabulary, the more we can communicate to different people exactly what we mean and help make the world a more equal place.

  • A-L

    This is such a great piece, and is really making me think. I consider myself an ally for equal marriage rights, and yet since my marriage two months ago I’ve kept using the term “husband” with gleeful abandon because I’m so excited that I’m now married to my partner. So I’m a bit ashamed that I never even thought about this issue before.

    But with about 2 minutes of thought on the subject (with much more time obviously needed) I’ve gone from wanting to call my spouse my partner, to wondering if that’s really the term I want to use. For pretty much my entire life my mom has worked in a field with partners, and so when I hear the term, I do think a lot about business partners rather than life partners. So then I think that the term husband really is more apt for me.

    But then (again with the buts) wouldn’t it be nice if people could be obvious about who they loved, and people just wouldn’t bat an eyelash, wouldn’t have a moment’s hesitation or prejudice? When I look at someone I generally know if they are male or female. So what if the term you use for a spouse declares your sexuality? It’s been doing so for millennia for heterosexual couples. Unfortunately, I know that in too many places we haven’t gotten to that mindset toward LGBTQ couples.

    But thanks for the food for thought!

  • I followed your planning and I’m so glad to hear you write more in depth about this. Well done you! So insightful!

  • “I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.”

    YES. This.

    Also: “the more it becomes mine, and the more it describes the person I need it to: my wife.”

    I’m not married yet, but I’ve been struggling with the word fiance, and I know it’s probably just about patience and repetition and practice, but it always feels a little bit false to use that word. But the more I use it, the more I’m comfortable with it, and the more it refers to my honey. So that’s nice.

    Thanks for a brilliant post, Miranda.

    • After nearly a year… I still choke on the word “fiance”. I hate it. It makes me feel like an attention whore. When I use “boyfriend”, I feel like I’m devaluing our relationship. I’m really looking forward to “wife” and “husband”. What I don’t like about using “partner” is that it always brings doubts into people’s minds…. as in… are you referring to your significant other or your business partner and it’s always super awkward to ask for clarification…

      • meg

        I think that’s changing (and will continue to change). I use the word husband too, but I tend to use the word partner when it’s really obvious, “My partner and I are thinking that when we have kids…” etc. The thing is, the only way to GET it to change, and to MAKE it an equal word is for all of us to use it some of the time. Yeah, there is sometimes a moment of awkwardness, but that’s nothing like the awkwardness of homophobia, right? So I figure I can suck it up. That’s my argument.

        • I was more commenting on the fact that it would be nice to have a term without a connotation to the business world. It may sound odd to English- speakers but in Spanish it’s perfectly acceptable to describe one’s partner (!) as one’s concubine. In fact, we recently had a national census and I was listed as my fiance’s concubine.

          I also recently had a conversation with a couple friends about how… not so long ago in Argentina at least… partner was a way for gay couples to explain their association without directly identifying a directly romantic link (mind you… just 30 years ago.. there was a super conservative Catholic dictatorship where 30,000 people were murdered by the state. divorce was illegal, and the only way to marriage was through the church…) So this wasn’t just avoiding homophobia. It was literally hiding for your life behind the business connotation of the word. And I just can’t jump on board with a term with that sort of history. And FYI… Gay marriage is legal in Argentina these days.

          • Vmed

            This is really interesting, and I am going to be thinking about it very hard.

            I did not know that about Argentina’s past. Or about the use of concubine.
            But one thing to consider is that even “direct” translations of words don’t have the same connotations and meaning in both Spanish and English, so I don’t want to discard partner as an option just yet. I mean, maybe in Argentina.

          • The direct translation comment is true. I can’t think of a generic all- inclusive term in Spanish for business partner and romantic/ life partner. “Socio” was the term used for “partner”. It continues today only in a strictly business sense. “Pareja” probably is a bit more similar. It’s more like “couple” or “twos”.

          • That’s funny about “concubine” in Argentina. In Spain Spanish (where my partner is from), he’s supposed to call me “my woman” (“mi mujer”). Seriously! I said “oh Hells no!” about calling other people that, long before we were married, and then again even more strongly when it was my turn. We use “pareja” (“partner”, which implies romantic rather than business), and if necessary “esposa”, which is a bit more Mexican/Latin American and sounds slightly strange in Spain. But just like with “partner” in American English, I think that’s a good thing. I think people need to get used to changes in how things are done–even in Spain (which also had a Catholic, fascist dictator until 35 years ago)!
            Men are called “marido” (literally, “male who I am married to”) in Spain. I wish that word had at least a feminine version (since a gender-neutral version would be nearly impossible in a place where everything has a gender, even trees)!

            In English I sometimes say “romantic partner” if a distinction between that and business is needed. Like others have mentioned here, I do this on purpose as a political act. Colin Beavan (aka “No Impact Man”) says that “being optimistic is the most radical political act there is”. I look forward to the day when no one even wonders about the gender of someone’s partner.

        • angela

          I sometimes use the word partner when i am with someone that i know is wondering what i really wanna say with that word…so the akwardned is the other person….and is a kind of play in which i have the hadle on and wait until the other person have the face to ask openly….or when i just don´t want to say husband, knowing the other person probably ask itself about why i am not saying husband…
          And also, it is kind of confussing (and also wrong for me) when in english you say that a person is straight…as in ” 2 blocks straight, then turn 1 block to the right”?
          I´m spanish so don´t take my word so seriously…sometimes translations make funny words…

      • I talk about our “partnership,” but I can’t wait to call my fiance my “husband” and I’m oh-so-eager to hear “my wife” roll off of his tongue. Like Miranda, I find the term “partner” very dry and even somewhat devaluing. He’s not just my partner. Maybe it has to do with my profession, but “partner” to me connotes an arm’s-length relationship, not a love relationship.

        I am looking forward to the time when EVERYONE feels free to use meaningful terms that signify the complete import of their relationships.

        • Kate

          I love how differently people feel about these words! In the year since we’ve been married, I’ve worked pretty hard to become more comfortable with the word husband, because it still seems weird and formal to me. And, like Miranda said about wife, it still makes me think of 50s images of husband. So, while I often say husband to others, I always think of him as my partner because, in my head at least, it’s much more descriptive of our relationship (and how I hope our relationship continues to manifest).

          • tupelohoney

            I think it may also have something to do with where you live (among many other things!) I live in the midwest and when a friend of mine had just moved here from Oregon she said to me, “Is that your partner?”, referring to my then boyfriend (now husband). Granted this was several years ago, but that was the first time I had heard someone refer to a romantic companion as a “partner”. I hear it much more frequently now, but I’m wondering if it’s slowly making it’s way over here from the west coast.

          • A-L

            Like Tupelohoney, I think it’s a regional thing as well. Apart from blogs, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a heterosexual person refer to their spouse as their partner. Though I have heard of nonmarried, heterosexual people who live together using the term, though I don’t know if it’s to be in support of LGBQT or because they want their relationship taken more seriously than boyfriend/girlfriend usually is.

            For what it’s worth, I’m in New Orleans.

        • meg

          I love saying the word husband, I do. But I choose to say partner at least 1/3 of the time, because it’s a necessary political act, that gives protection to an oppressed group. Is it an awesome word? Not necessarily. But it’s part of the fight. It’s a very small sacrifice I can make, and one that I encourage all of us to make. It’s an important thing, I think. Very important.

          • Alicemay

            I totally agree. The whole institution of marriage is going through a huge process of re-definition, largely thanks to the LGBTQ community. Whilst the choices we make about our relationships, including the language we use to describe and express them, may seem inconsequential, they are powerful political acts. With each of them, we either challenge or uphold the status quo, and, whichever we choose to do, we participate in shaping the way marriage is defined, enacted and lived. It’s a huge conversation and movement we can all, married or not, be part of, and a huge privilege to be so.

          • Nataliah

            I am all for taking any practical steps to stand up for those of us not yet able to marry legally. However I don’t get this one?? Can you explain how using partner 1/3rd of the time is a political act? I am missing the logic somehow, is it shake up the expectation that marriage is always hetero? or to say that a partnership (legal marriage or otherwise) is as valid as a marriage until everyone can marry? I’m probably just a bit dumb today…

          • meg

            Simple explanation. There are often times where gay couples don’t want to be outed – it’s not safe, they’ll risk their job, etc. But if they refer to their “partner” that outs them right away, because only gay people use that term. So, there is a movement afoot for EVERYONE to use the word partner. Then when someone uses it, you can’t make any assumptions about their sexuality. That’s the political act part.

            There has been in depth and smart discussion on this thread about why it’s important, and arguably political, to have a gender neutral word, and I agree with all of that. And I agree with you that it’s important to shake up the idea that marriage is always hetro. But the political act stuff, that’s about allowing people to not be outed by a single word, if they don’t want to.

          • jenna

            i use “partner” more often than not to refer to my fiance (we’re a hetero couple), and it’s a deliberate political act, as meg said. i used it when we were still dating almost as a way of “legitimizing” our relationship – he’s more than my boyfriend, he’s my partner. i do get comments occasionally from our peers (“your partner? you mean your fiance?”), and my (very liberal and gay-friendly) parents have even commented on it a couple of times (“don’t you think people might be confused and think you have a girlfriend?”). as others have said, i think it’s important to keep that word in continual use for all kinds of committed couples.

    • Ugh, I really don’t like using the term fiance, and I had kind of determined before we got engaged that I would just continue to call my fiance my boyfriend until we got married. But I soon realized that fiance … carried more weight in a way and made our relationship automatically more respected to people … when I’d go to the mechanic to fix the car, or call insurance, or what have you, I found that by saying ‘fiance’ I was automatically respected. There was no “Why are you bringing the car in when it’s in someone else’s name” or what have you.

      The other thing about using fiance is it made me see, even more than I had before, how lack of gay marriage is really discriminatory. Because, it’s not just about those federal benefits (though obviously those are important) or the state benefits (where I live domestic partnership accords you most benefits), it’s about the language as well. It’s about that instant respect you get from people. It’s about the message “fiance” and “husband” and “wife” accord- we’re a permanent unit.

      Every time I use the word fiance, it’s a little reminder to me that I am lucky. Very lucky – a little over forty years ago my fiance and I would not necessarily have been able to get married either (thank you Lovings v Virginia.) Using the word fiance makes me palpably confront the injustices in our society, on a daily basis. If I said partner or boyfriend, I feel like I could hide behind my neutral language, paper over the injustices.* So I don’t. I use fiance, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

      *I recognize that other people use partner in a positive fashion, and I totally get why people use it. I don’t at all mean to say that I don’t get why people use the term or that people shouldn’t use the term partner, just why I don’t use it.

    • I totally get what you mean about struggling with “fiance”. I often thought people were being showy-offy when they talked about their fiance before I got engaged, and I realized after I was engaged that, as you said, that’s the best description of the relationship. And it did take practice before I was comfortable with it! But then, as I mentioned, I realized there were benefits to it, too…

    • We are officially husband-elect and future-wife. We don’t like fiance so we use something else (terms I saw here first, by the way). I love that as we work on expanding marriage rights, we work on expanding what marriage means and how we talk about it. I can’t wait for the day when everyone who wants to call someone their husband, wife, spouse, partner, etc. etc. is able to.

      • I LOVE husband-elect and future-wife!

      • I too struggle with a little with the word partner, though it is what I use almost exclusively. In most contexts it easy to assume I’m not talking about a business partner. (why exactly would you and your business partner be planting a garden?) The term I’ve started to use lately is “almost-wife” since I’ve never really been able to get used to the term fiancee. I think it very clearly explains the relationship and personally I can’t wait to be a wife and have a wife so this term allows me to get a jump on it :)

        An antidote about a different-sex couple using the term partner. My almost-sister-in-law often referred to her husband as her partner before they got married. They had been together 10 years by the time they got married and had been engaged for 5 or 6 so they were a little beyond boyfriend/girlfriend and it seems there is a cultural time limit on fiancee, so partner worked well. Until the mother of one of her friends “politely” warned her one day that some people might think she was a lesbian if she used the term partner. She politely asked her why that was a bad thing. The mother just sort of sputtered, but perhaps is got her thinking.

        I am lucky and live in a fairly forward thinking area where many different-sex couples use the term partner so I feel that in most of the circles I frequent it is a gender non-specific term. Sometimes in a conversation with someone new I see how long I can keep them guessing on the gender of my “partner” :)

      • Noelle

        Husband-elect…awesome. Just awesome.

    • The word fiancée has always rubbed me the wrong way. Always. I used husband-elect instead.

  • Awww, you and your wife are so adorable together and this post gives me much to think about vocabulary wise. I’m in a hetero marriage, and I love being called wife. I think because growing up I almost always heard ‘my wife’ and simultaneously heard the possessive love that went along with that word. I don’t mean possessive in a bad way, but in a ‘we belong to each other’ way, or a ‘this is my most sacred relationship’ way.

    This November I attended my first LGBTQ wedding… in Texas (though for their honeymoon they went to DC to make it legal), which I basically cried the whole way through (the ceremony bit) mostly because it was so beautiful, but also because the wedding was MORE meaningful to me because it was the marriage of two women, who were saying yes to each other and no to oppression. The first time those two called each other wife was a really wonderful moment. At first they looked totally surprised, and then they looked really really happy. It was awesome.

    But in Texas I’m sure that the issues that you raise are even more at play… There are certainly parts of the state where even being suspected of desiring a same sex relationship would be dangerous. This post makes me think a lot more seriously about about the exclusive language surrounding marriage, and how I might be playing into that. I know this isn’t a new idea, but though I consider myself an avid ally, I never really thought about it exactly in this way before. Thank you for explaining it so well and so thoughtfully.

    • As a former resident of Seattle, when I moved to Texas the world seemed to have turned upside-down a bit. On the flip side, there are positive changes starting with our generation and trickling down to the youth. The most interesting thing I have observed in the short time I have lived here is the surprising amount of openly gay teens. I am not allowed to sponsor a gay-straight alliance club at school and yet you wouldn’t believe how many girls I had journaling about their girlfriends (I’m a teacher). I can’t tell them about books for gay teens for fear of losing my job, but I can make sure that kids know I support them.

      I’m a wife, but more than that, I am a supporter and a care-giver and an after dinner dish-washing woman, I am a navigator and a laundry-folder-if you-vacuum. I guess that is partnership – now I have to inundate my students with more new vocabulary.

  • Thank you for a great post Miranda! You’ve helped me stop and think about what it means to be a wife, and have a husband, and what those words mean to us. I actually avoided using fiance throughout most of our engagement time, and so did my husband. I didn’t like how using fiance allowed strangers to think they could ask me all about the wedding (why is “what is your color scheme?!” so often the first question?? or was that just me?). We used partner instead, and still do on occasion, but mostly in situations where we wanted the listener to know less about us (I am in a significant relationship with someone vs. I am married married to someone and they are man). I don’t think that’s the best thing though, if I think of partner as a compromise rather than its own signifier of an awesome relationship. I’m going to work on that in my partnership, thinking of partner as a term on the same level as wife and husband.
    Awesome pictures by the way!

  • clampers

    I had a former employer who was in a hetero relationship and referred to her husband as her “spouse.” But then again, she didn’t change her last name either. I really liked it because it speaks to feminism too.

  • “I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.”
    Beautiful, and so well said. Thank you for this post and reminding us why it is SO important to support people who can’t get married, and how little things we do and say can show that support.

  • “So I say partner because I want to be on Sue and Jane’s side. I want to support the people who can’t get married, but who have someone they would marry if they could.”

    This is why I say “partner” when referring to my hetero partner – just because I happen to be in a girl-boy relationship, I don’t think my sexual orientation should be one of the first things someone learns about me (I also hate hate hate the term boyfriend… we have a dog and a house together! We should get a different word than 15 year olds!). For me, it’s a little thing I can do to show that I’m me, regardless of what kind of underdoos my partner wears.

    • “I also hate hate hate the term boyfriend… we have a dog and a house together! We should get a different word than 15 year olds!” Exactlyyyy! We talked about this a lot at the APW book meetup: regardless of either person’s gender, there should be a term for this.

      • Shelly

        In the holiday newsletter that my mom sends out every year, my now-husband was always referred to as my “friend” and I would always give her a hard time about it because I felt like it made me sound like I was either 8 or 80, with a little chum. She thought it sounded more dignified than “boyfriend” and assumed that everyone would figure it out just the same.

        • Chloe

          I would find that incredibly annoying and devaluing, but I think that I may be too uppity about language and not sensitive enough to whether people *meant* to be insulting. In particular, I’m starting to appreciate that it’s particularly hard for my parent’s generation to transition to vocabulary more complex than girlfriend/fiance/wife. Maybe that’s because, socially, in their lifetimes, people tended to “fit” more cleanly into those categories, whereas now more relationships are not proceeding according to “traditional” timelines? Often, they’re really trying to be sensitive to the complexities of our relationship, but are still really stuck in old language paradigms. Maybe I should be more sensitive and understanding. Maybe.

          • I HATE being called my fiance’s “friend” because it makes me feel like we’re in middle school and our parents don’t want admit that we’re dating yet. I know it’s not intentional but it feels demeaning to me. My mom does that, although knowing it annoys me she did introduce my fiance and “Amber’s fiance” at Thanksgiving dinner, so I appreciated that.

        • Ha, my mother-in-law did the same thing, and I was a little miffed about it at first, until I found out that my sister-in-law’s boyfriend (now husband) was also referred to as her “friend” in the annual family letter. I still thought it was funny, but at least I wasn’t annoyed by it anymore.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Couldn’t agree with this more. When I say “boyfriend” it could mean anything from (to quote my mom) “Going Steady” to “Fucking for the last 3 Weeks” to “Sharing a lifetime together”. It’s no wonder your relationship gets an automatic respect boost when you get to use the words engaged, fiance, husband or wife.

        Although now that I think about it, history really might have the answer. I’m going to start referring to the lusty, significant others of teenagers as “beaux”. I’m sure my cousins will appreciate my asking about their suitors and… suitresses? Dammit. Nevermind.

        • I know exactly what you mean about the respect boost. The difference in the reaction I now when I say “My husband is in rural China on business and I haven’t heard from him in two days” is way different than when I said “My boyfriend is in rural China on business and I haven’t heard from him in two days.” Astoundingly different, even though our level of commitment, and the entwining of or lives was the same before, except legally.

        • meg

          Of course, as Dan Savage wisely points out, the thing about hetero-marriage and the privilege it immediately infers is, “Wife” or “Husband” could also mean “Fucking for the last 3 weeks.” But you still get the same status when you use it.

          • I don’t think I can “EXACTLY” this enough.

            Marriage as a heterosexual privilege gives that implied status and weight instantly, in a Las Vegas drive-through, without knowing if the couple actually give a shit. Meanwhile, a gay couple together for decades, owning a home, and raising a family are still just “boyfriends”, and all the inferior status that implies.

      • Clairelizabeth

        I’ve always felt akward with refering to people as boyfried/girlfriend if they are adults and are clearly in a committed, long-term relationship.

        I totally agree w/ Meaghan and Chloe on the 15-year-old connotation. My aunt and her husband were together for about 9 years before marrying recently and it always seemed bizarre to give their status the same weight of words as my string of totally disastrous highschool/university relationships.

      • There should be a better word for grown-ups in a relationship. I am tired of the “transition” words and ready for the sealed-the-deal words. I don’t like boyfriend/girlfriend because (a) I’m not a teeanger anymore and (b) that devalues the extent of our commitment. I don’t like to use “fiance” because we’re planning a small wedding, and every time I use “fiance,” the person I’m talking to wants to know when the wedding is and all of the details, which would be fine except I then feel weird because they’re not invited, but they would be if we were having a bigger shindig.


  • Harriet

    This is a great post. I I’ve been looking forward to “husband” so I can ditch “fiance” and “boyfriend.” I really love “partner,” but the main thing keeping me from it is that I just don’t think I’m cool enough to pull it off. I know that sounds totally absurd, but the people I know who use partner are mostly kickass labor activists and artist types–I am a dorky dorky PhD student. I’ll work on it!

    • Chloe

      Sounds like an excellent reason to start using it!!

    • That’s so funny because the first time I started hearing heterosexual people referring to their spouses regularly as “partners” was in academia! :)

      • Agreed! The people I know who call their wives/husbands/common law relationship a “partner” are all academics. All you have to do to use a term is use it like you own it. :)

  • Before we got married, I wasn’t sure what I was going to call my wife–I really wasn’t sure if I would come down on the side of “wife” or “partner” but I figured it would work itself out. And it has, with me settling on “wife” for the most part, though I’m sure there are times when I have used “partner” or will in the future. I haven’t yet taken the time to analyze when I use which term, but I think your observations are really interesting.

    I actually didn’t think I was going to like being a wife–coming into marriage, the term still felt pretty loaded with that stereotypical 1950s picture of a housewife. But I think seeing the term thrown around so much on APW/Reclaiming Wife was part of what made me feel more comfortable with it. And now I love it! I love that it’s something straight people can relate to; in most people’s eyes, a wife is a woman you’ve married and are committed to, whereas partner can describe a lot of different types of relationships. And I feel like it’s a little bit radical. People don’t expect me to have a wife, so when I talk about my wife, they do a double-take. And some people will have that double-take reaction to “partner” too, but “wife” removes all ambiguity, making it just a little more in-your-face. And I am a very, very, very not in-your-face person in general, but I do feel that coming out (in safe circumstances of course) is important for me, and this is such an easy way to do it. All it takes is one word!

    Having said that, I think it’s pretty cool when hetero couples use the term “partner” to refer to their spouse. In its own way, that’s a little bit radical–by using that term, you just might be assumed to be gay, and I love it when straight people are not scared of that potential assumption. But I also think that “wife” can be plenty radical for a lot of straight women too, especially when we redefine “wife” to suit our lives and our relationships rather than other people’s expectations of them.

    • I love all of this entire comment. I agree that APW made “wife” easier to use, and seeing strong women in my life embracing “wife” also helped. I think there’s a lot to be said just for consciously making the decision to use one term or the other, and it’s so great that we are able/allowed to do that.

      • meg

        Awww you guys. Sniff. That was the whole point for me, and it worked and you got it. Snifffff…..

    • I really relate to this comment. When I hear the word “wife,” only negative connotations come to mind – aprons and oven mitts definitely included. I don’t really feel comfortable with the idea of my partner (currently, my fiance) calling me “wife” someday soon, but maybe I’ll like it when the time comes. APW is certainly helping to reclaim the term for me as I redefine the image of “wife” as diverse, modern, empowered, and smart.

      I share other commenters’ annoyance that “fiance” often engenders questions about color schemes (don’t have one) and bridesmaids (don’t have them) and diamons (don’t like them). I also share the frustration that “boyfriend” is the same term used by sixth graders who hold hands during their lunchbreak.

      So, for me, “partner” just feels the most accurate – he’s my teammate, my encourager, my supporter, my responsibility, my comfort, my advisor, and our relationship is a partnership at its most simple form. I have had queer friends tell me that using that term helps them to feel safe and supported, too, which is also extraordinarily important.

      • Mandy

        Just to play a teeny bit of devil’s advocate….there are those of us who consider aprons and oven mitts a positive connotation of the word ‘wife’.

        I love being a wife, both in the sense that “this is the person I married and am going to spend my life with” and “this is the person whose socks I darn”. And yes, I totally darn socks. I wear aprons to cook dinner in. I even have every day aprons, a hostess apron, and a holiday apron. In the summer I only wear sundresses that I’ve made myself (to the point that a newish friend of mine looked at me last August when I was in jeans and said, “…Mandy! You’re wearing a shirt! ….I mean, you’re not wearing a dress! I’ve never seen you in pants.”). I remember vacuuming the theatre green room in a very 50’s looking sundress and white high heels and someone saying, “…oh, you are SUCH a 1950’s housewife.”

        I think a lot of us hear the term “wife”, think of that stereotypical 1950’s housewife, and associate it with “repression”. It’s perfectly natural to think this, because most 1950’s housewives DIDN’T have a choice. But it’s also easy to forget that there are still people out there who still live that life, or want to live that life, and not because anyone is forcing them to. The beauty of feminism is that we have the choice to be a top executive in a business firm, or a lawyer, or a doctor…but we still have the choice to be “housewives”, as well. Or we can do both. I get paid to direct theatre, which is awesome and empowering and all kinds of cool stuff, but I still want my aprons and oven mitts.

        And to comment on the original topic, two of our friends got married a week before us. They’re a same-sex, bi-racial couple in their forties – not the kind of couple we see on magazine covers (though I sure as h*ll WISH we saw more couples like them on magazine covers). They use the term wife with absolute glee. I completely understand that it’s not about what we’re comfortable with, or what we prefer, it’s about the political statement. Maybe it’s just where we live, but they’ve said that continuing to use the word ‘partner’ feels like it devalues their relationship, whether or not it’s an accurate term. It’s a complicated issue, and we all have to do what feels right to us; we all have to fight for marriage equality the best way we can. To some, that could very well be using the term partner. I’m just not sure it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.

    • Sarah

      I totally relate to what you’re saying. The night before our rehearsal dinner, my now-wife and I were up late with my lesbian aunt and she was talking to us about her best friend, a lesbian who had gotten married several years earlier. She was explain to us how, several years after her best friend’s marriage, the friend and her wife/partner were having trouble keep their public identity as married alive — They married before most LGBTQ folks were using language like “wife” and “husband” and without a change in the names they used for each other, the marriage seemed to disappear in everyone else’s eyes. In some strange ways they found that the language that comes along with marriage is what draws the public connection between the wedding and the marriage were the words “wife” and “husband.”

      That struck a really strong chord with me and so I made the active decision to use the word “wife.” I mean, the reason that I wanted to get married was all about public recognition — I didn’t want to let that recognition slide away. My wife, however, really doesn’t feel comfortable with the word. Mostly she just avoids saying anything, but when she has to, she says partner. Different strokes for different folks.

      • meg

        That’s a really powerful, thought provoking story. Hum.

        • Evelyn

          Hi Meg,

          I agree with Sarah. I think it is much more important for my wife and I to refer to each other as what we are— wives. As my sister (who introduced me to your glorious blog) said during our wedding ceremony:
          “In some ways, getting married is coming out publically, in front of your friends and family, as a new family unit. Being married identifies you as related to someone in a way that simply being in a committed relationship does not. When we marry, we even get new terms that mark us as part of this new family. When you E, or you M, say ‘this is my wife’, what other people hear is ‘ this is my family’.”
          The term “wife” or “husband” carries historical and emotional weight and we get to define what that term means in each married relationship. We deserve to use the correct word for our relationship, and “partner” is not it.

          • meg

            Right, I agree.

            I’m arguing that more STRAIGHT couples should use the word partner, because it allows their to be a gender neutral term that is used by everyone. That then allows gay couples who don’t want to be outed when they say partner to not be outed. That’s one of the many many ways that its a powerful act. Besides that, I think a gender neutral term is important. I don’t always want to share my spouses gender with the world. It’s not always their business. And that point, I’ll continue to argue.

            I’m not arguing that LGBTQ couples shouldn’t use the word husband and wife… or that anyone shouldn’t have access to that term. I think you missed my point a bit.

      • Class of 1980

        When I hear the word “partner”, I tend to think it means business partner or gay/lesbian relationship (not necessarily married).

        One benefit of referring to each other as “wife” is that it might give some people pause to realize that you are legally bound. Even if they are against your relationship, they might have some respect for the legal status.

        Who knows? Just throwing it out there because I live in a very small town homophobic area.

  • Thank you for such a moving, thoughtful post. Getting engaged and preparing for marriage has made me think more and more about how committed GLBTQ couples in so many parts of the country aren’t afforded this right, which is absolutely ridiculous. The world would be a much better place with more married couples like you two.

  • I definitely say partner. Non-gendered words are important. People questioning their assumptions about me is important–sometimes awkward, but important and always worth it. I also hate the term boyfriend. And fiance felt weird, but now that it’s there it’s true and I sort of get it a bit more. I started liking spouse when I took Spanish class, but who knows how I’ll feel about it later.

    Thank you so much for this post! It is absolutely lovely and touching. I’m going to have to think on it a whole lot.

    • Agreed! I kind of enjoy the momentary flickers of confusion when I casually use the word “partner” in certain situations. I think there is power in challenging assumptions, especially in small and non-confrontational ways – language is one of the most significant opportunities to do so.

      • Amy

        I really like that the term partner obfuscates the assumptions around sexuality, because why should it always be taken for granted that someone is straight unless proven otherwise? I would happily use it more often if I also didn’t happen to work for a partnership which means that in my work life the terms “my partner” and the phrase “my partner needs” are used by 99% of the company to refer to their bosses!

      • this is so interesting to read! “partner” is obviously a non-gendered word, but i always feel like it is a word only gay people use. saying “my partner” translates in my head as “i’m gay! (but i don’t want to make you uncomfortable)” i’m unsure if i’m just self-conscious, or if i think that because that is exactly what it reads as in the south. apparently that’s changing (things change slowly here).

        • I live in the south too and I know what you mean, but I use partner all the time without thinking about it for my fiance and no one has ever assumed that I’m gay. I have to stop now and think “now he’s my fiance” before I just automatically say partner. I got started saying it because I was fed up with boyfriend. Like the poster above said, we have a house and two dogs together, we’re not in high school anymore. So I started saying partner so people would have more respect for his status, and it has no business implications in my field (I’m a teacher) so it works.

  • “But the more I use the word, the more I reference my wife (“I need to check in with my wife!” “Oh, my wife is picking up our dinner.” “My wife and I are going on vacation.”), the more it becomes mine, and the more it describes the person I need it to: my wife.”

    I love this idea, that you can make a word your own and strip it of its stereotypes and presuppositions. Just by thinking in this way as we say whatever terms we choose, it’s a start to reshaping the societal perspective. The difference between the reaction to someone saying, “My wife is picking up dinner” might just depend on the way in which it’s said. If the tone implies, because she’s the wife, it’s her role OR it could instead imply, because we’re committed to each other and she’s doing this for US.

  • In New Zealand, and I think Australia (and maybe most of the UK countries?), the term “partner” is the default to mean person-with-whom-one-has-coupled. I’m not sure whether that’s always been the case or is a newer response to this need to have a more gender-neutral term, or even because the difference between “fiance/e” and “husband/wife” has blurred a bit (hell, in Sweden the have a whole extra legal status akin to “serious but not married” that’s good enough for a green card).

    So right on, I’m all for using the term more here, too.

    • lorna

      You’re right, same thing in the UK. Partner is a general term to give weight to an important, long-term, stable relationship without going into details- gender and judgement neutral. Depending on the situation, i use different things. in the hospital i said ‘my partner is coming to pick me up’ to make it clear i will be well taken care of at home, when i introduce dave to people i say ‘this is my fiance’. When i’m talking to him, i refer to him as ‘boyfriend’, rather than by his name. i’ve always done it, don’t think i could change it if i tried.

      I always feel like a bit of a fraud saying partner though, i have to say. it’s never sounded right coming out of my mouth. We have civil partnerships here now for same-sex marriages, so whilst it’s not quite a “wedding”, there is much more in the way of progress than in many of the states. I’m not sure if using partner more consciously would help any. I’m willing to try though!

      • Alice919

        Exactly. When I travelled to England for the first time, I was quite surprised to notice that it is really quite common for husbands and wives to refer to their spouse as their “partner”. Since in the US we only really use it for homosexual couples it really was noticeable when everyone uses it for both gay and straight couples. That subtle difference in terms really caught my ear and i thought it was a really good descriptor term. These people ARE our partners afterall. :)

    • The Elizabeth of Oz

      Definitely the same in Oz (I like the “UK countries” description, 110 years of federation does not a culturally distinct country make!). I’ve commented on this before – how “partner” is fairly neutral in Australia – but actually, I think I expressed some doubt about the extent of its usage that I would now disagree with. Since reading APW I’ve become much more alive to this particular field of lexicology, and accordingly I’ve been paying more attention to how people talk about these things.

      I would now say that “partner” as a descriptor of “life-person” is almost entirely without LGBTQ connotations in Australia; it really is used now amongst people of all ages and backgrounds (ie, it’s the kind of thing you might here someone say whether they are old, young, University graduates or people who didn’t finish highschool, from rural areas or big cities…) and the result is that it is without any ambiguity.

      My immediate feeling about that is one of mild disappointment – I’d like to be able to feel that I’m flying the flag (even a mini mini flag) for my friends in committed non-hetero relationships by using the term, in the way that Meg describes – but I think there’s no sense in which I’m doing so in using it, because it doesn’t really entail that ambiguity.

      Of course, the flip-side of that is that we already have that glorious state of affairs in Australia of there being a universal word that is a “I’ve got a person who is my person and it’s none of your business who and what else they are” indicator … so I guess that’s a pretty big step already. And perhaps mirrored in (causative of…? never underestimate the power of words…) the overwhelming numbers of Australians who think gay marriage should just be legal already! http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/8145152/australians-back-gay-marriage-poll

      • Frances

        Plus of course you are still flying a flag for non-hetero committed relationships – you’re pointing out that you think the status of your relationship and their relationship are the same, or should be given equal weight.

      • lorna

        ha, it’s so funny because i use UK really deliberately- I’m scottish, my partner is english and we live in scotland. i am so deliberate about saying UK to show that dave and i have a shared heritage (especially because he’s from the north of england.) There’s been times when i’ve been really uncomfortable with the anti-english rhetoric around him, so saying UK is a conscious choice to try and remind people we’re fundamentally the same country. i understand the ‘partner’ thing a wee bit more now! thanks!

    • DQ

      I do think it is regional – here in Australia (in my experience), the word Partner is common, married couples, straight un-married couples, gay couples (although my gay friends in relationships like using Husband and Wife illegally). I do think the trend in Australia started as a bit of an interim title, the long term living together relationship (for any and all sexualities) but not engaged, too old for “boy/girlfriend” etc etc and has now moved into the mainstream for all.

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  • Denzi

    One of the things T. and I talked about when we sat down post “Um, I really want to marry you” “I want to marry you too!” conversation and hashed out being engaged was the fact that I wanted to start using the word “partner.” As a bisexual woman marrying a man, it begins to scrape the walls of my soul bare to so easily pass as straight. “Partner” has a frisson of possibility. For two seconds, someone may wonder whether my person is a guy or a girl, and that’s two seconds of freedom from the assumptions about my sexuality that come along with knowing the gender of my future spouse.

    • Sara

      This. I hope you get more and more and more of those seconds of freedom until it becomes silly to count seconds at all! happy engagement to you both!

      • Denzi

        Aww, thanks so much Sara! <3

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I like this. I used to have a friend who described me as “voraciously bisexual” but after 6 years with my now-husband no one sees me that way anymore. Most of my social circle only knows me as part of this hetero couple. It feels like I’ve lost an important part of myself and I don’t share it like I used to.

      “Partner” in that way kind of feels like saying “My husband is a man, not all my lovers have been.”

    • Amandover

      In addition to agreeing with the other comments on your comment, I have to laud your use of “frisson” in this situation. : )

      • Denzi

        Hee! I’m just glad I spelled it correctly; I always seem to want to stick an extra “i” in there somewhere. :D

  • Jeanne and I have not gotten married, but I frequently refer to her as my wife (mostly among close LGBT friends). In uncertain situations, I will refer to her as my roommate (although you have to be pretty dense to not “get it” when a 46 year old woman refers to a roommate!). I occasionally use partner – she uses it more than I do – or girlfriend. But I have to say, my favorite term was coined by a lesbian comedian (I think it may have been Kate Clinton, but I can’t recall for sure) is “Husbian”. :)

  • april

    HECK, YES!!! And to this:

    ” I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.”

    BRAVO. I literally got a lump in my throat when I read that bit.

  • so many things! i love your writing – i love all of the things you’ve brought up (and i love thinking about being a wife with a wife soon!)

    i’m really excited about being able to use “wife” – i love being able to out myself in a really casual, ordinary way (it’s kind of a femme thing). i use girlfriend that way all the time, but it has such a non-serious connotation, as many people have mentioned. on the other hand, i sort of feel like “wife” is unfair to my genderqueer lover – i haven’t decided quite how to reconcile that.

    there’s “spouse,” which i’m kind of undecided on. i don’t think it has the power “husband” and “wife” do – their power is directly related to how loaded they are (like bringing fifties housewives to mind). i hate “partner.” personally, of course! i use it on accident, in a political-correctness kind of way in official/business settings. and i always, always, feel like i am lying, hedging, or minimizing our relationship – and it makes me want to puke.

    also, as a “sue in kentucky,” not being able to legally marry has, in my opinion, no effect on whether or not we are married. i will be her wife, and we will be married, as of our wedding – not at the discretion ballot initiatives or court rulings.

  • Sara

    “I am hoping that someone will maybe ask the next person what their fiancee does without using gendered pronouns. I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.”
    Yes! I work really hard to un-gender pronouns – especially when just meeting people! “And what does your partner do?” or “where do you and your partner live?” (not crazy about the label partner, as some have said too, but I guess it is the most available?) I know I slip back and forget sometimes, but really try, since I know it’s important.
    Plus, I like when the response begins with a bit of an expression of relief and the person I was just introduced to can continue perhaps with much less consideration of the terminology to use in an answer if they happen to be gay. Then it is just jump right in with “oh! she does such and such…” (or if a guy “well, he and I live in the south end…”). Or, if the new acquaintance is straight, maybe they just might think for a split second, “huh, I guess I might have made an assumption there, but this person didn’t, and maybe I shouldn’t when I first meet people…”

    Plus, Meg, yes to “gay marriage makes my marriage stronger”! might even make society stronger too, because you get discussions like this which make people think, “heck yes, I’m going to keep trying to be a better person, AND better partner/spouse/wife, etc”

  • Michelle

    OMG I think you hit the nail on the head several times. I love the editors note about referring to each other as partner, but I agree with you – it feels soo dry to me! Maybe thats because it was only referred to as business partners for so long, but it does lack something.
    And amidst all the insane marriage law upheaval at the moment – I think you should be loud and proud about WIFE because you did put in the effort to marry instead of just having a nice commitment ceremony and waiting for laws to change. NOT in any way shape or form dogging on those who are waiting (good heavens not in ANY way do I mean to imply anything negative about that). For those that go through the ridiculous hoops currently in place for same sex marriages (do I remember a weddingbee bee moving to canada for this purpose?!) I think you should wear the title as a badge of honor and love.
    And I’m totally with you on “wife” having a 50’s connotation! But thats what this whole series is right? Reclaiming “wife”! :) Great job on the post. Loved reading your bee posts. Now – go hug your wife! :)

  • Cass

    This whole story (thank you) just reinforces my ideas that government needs to get out of the marriage biz all together. Just let everyone have their own “civil union”, like making a contract between 2 people and the government. Marriage is so societally, socially, culturally driven and means so much to so many, how does the government get away with giving it a definition beyond “2 people + government”?
    I’m straight, but my fiance and I often struggle with this idea. Why not just get married with the church ceremony alone? We don’t have to sign the marriage certificate required by the state.
    Unfortunately, being legally recognized makes a lot of interactions a lot easier: taxes, life insurance, every visit to the bank or hospital – all the Big Important Stuff, basically.

    • Liz

      preach it.

      even as a straight woman, the government doesn’t define marriage for me. so they should just stop trying.

    • Yeah… the whole marriage certificate thing keeps slipping my mind as we plan the wedding, and our officiant isn’t even ordained (we might do one of those sketchy-seeming online churches of love and happiness or whatever). I guess the government recognition doesn’t make marriage real or not to me.

      (Just in case this comment could be misinterpreted, I am vehemently in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples).

    • meg

      Agreed. I’m all for the government just doing civil unions for all of us, and the rite of marriage being a private and/or religious one. That said, I think gay marriage will bet legal before this ever happens. Small sigh.

  • Chloe

    It’s really interesting to read people’s reactions to the term “partner.” I’m starting to think that the term is in middle of a serious shift, as it seems to carry different connotations based on geography and generation. I know that’s definitely the case in our lives: in the Bay Area, our generation uses “partner” as default for long-term serious romantic relationship regardless of gender or legal status. It’s not seen to be dry, no worries about business partner, it’s just the norm. But the term clearly makes our parents (in Chicago and Texas) uncomfortable — frankly they want us to get married just so that they can finally use the words “son-in-law” etc. And I HATE it when my partner’s dad refers to me as his son’s girlfriend — 5 years, 3 apartments, two cats, and joint banking and I’m just a girlfriend??? Maybe the term “partner” is not normal there because long term non-legally binding relationships are less common?

    What words do people use in geographies like Canada or Europe, where people wait longer to get married?

    • Clairelizabeth

      I’m loath to comment on behalf of all Canadian APWers, but on the west coast (where I’m from), and in Toronto (where I live), the use of “partner” to refer to ones long-term lovah/common-law spouse/etc is relatively common. I think that most people would assume a romantic rather than a business relationship when people use the term.

      No idea about how it all goes down on the prairies or on the East Coast, and I’d love to know what the current Quebecois terms are – I suspect “copain/copine” has long been surpassed.

      In terms of gay marriage – which is legal in Canada – I’m not sure what the prevailing nomenclature trends are. We have at least two gay politicians (one federally and one in Ontario) who are married and publically refer to their spouses as husband.

      Maybe, slowly, the meaning “wife” is changing from “a woman married to a man” into “a woman who is married to another person” and similarly for “husband”.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        I spent 3 months working in Quebec as a non-french speaker (so I can only speak to the English word use of the limited people I knew there), but in English everyone said girlfriend/boyfriend. Even some married people. A (married, male) friend told me that “no one gets married. Your parents are married, no one does that anymore.” And in fact, he’d married his long-term partner, the mother of his two children only when he’d been transferred to the U.S. for a few years and wanted to bring his family with him. He still always referred to her as his girlfriend because that’s how he thought of her, not as an “old lady”.

        I don’t recall anyone using the term ‘partner’, but boyfriend and girlfriend certainly held all the weight that husband and wife do here.

        • As an (almost) bilingual person living in Ottawa and working with francophones, I’ve been astounded lately by the terminology used, in Gatineau at least. “Blonde” is used for girlfriend (even long-term, co-habitating ones) and “chum” is boyfriend…. I’ve heard a few people say “petit(e) ami(e)” but it seems far less common. I would probably smack Eric upside the head if I ever heard him calling me “his blonde,” so I always say “mon partenaire,” although I’m not 100% sure what people assume when I say it :P

          In terms of English, partner doesn’t seem to raise too many eyebrows here, although when I’ve been with friends from further north, I’ve had to clarify who I was talking about.

          • *to clarify, I mean used in french, not english. And I should add as a disclaimer, my perspective is as an anglophone who understands the words, not the cultural background, so although I find these terms odd and slightly off-putting, I’m sure they aren’t meant offensively.

          • Cassandra

            Meaghan, if you’re in a situation where you want to be sure people understand you’re not talking about your business partner, you can use “conjoint.” It differentiates from the other kind of partner without the gendered (and sort of weird sounding) ma blonde/mon chum :) They’re definitely not offensive terms in French, but I personally find them a little goofy for my taste.

          • Ah, merci! I haven’t heard that here but I definitely will use it!

      • Cassandra

        Copain/copine isn’t unheard of, but not terribly common anymore. Otherwise, it depends a bit where you are. Colloquially, you hear a lot of “ma blonde” for “my girlfriend” and “mon chum” for “my boyfriend, but typically people will say “conjoint” which essentially translates to partner – in Montreal, it’s overwhelmingly what’s used among Francophones. Most Anglos in Montreal will say “partner” or “boy/girlfriend”. I didn’t even think about this when writing my original comment because in English, I call Boy my boyfriend, but given that our relationship is bilingual, I would never in a million years refer to him as “mon chum.” So when we’re in the company of Anglophones, he’s my boyfriend and when we’re in the company of Francophones (and in the eyes of the government), he’s mon conjoint. I guess I’m more gender neutral in French :p

    • Morgan

      I’m from the Prairies, and would like to state for the record that people don’t wait to get married out here. Average seems to mid-twenties. The minister told us how nice it was to deal with an “older couple” and we were all of 27 & 28. And most people do get married.

      But partner isn’t used much, at least in Calgary. Maybe because we’re *such* an industry town, and the hundreds of different types of business partnerships come first in the local lexicon. Joint-venture is probably what many people think of first when they hear partnership. :)

      Gay or straight, husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend is the norm here.

      • Clairelizabeth

        Oh Morgan… I totally hear you about the early marriages. I grew up in the Okanagan and at 29 and 32 we will be practically ANCIENT compared to the average age of couples.

        So interesting to hear the differences between English and French Canada… I have 2 French co-workers who are married and the Quebecoise calls her husband her “conjoint” in Frech and “husband” in English, and they are apparently a total anomaly as a married couple in their social group. The other, a franco-Ontarian, refers to her husband as her “spouse” in english and “mari” in French….

  • Liz

    i, too (like so many other commenters!) struggle with the term “partner” so this was a really interesting read. but so is what roughit usually has to offer to the conversation, so i’m not super shocked.

    i feel that the means to the best kind of equality is to emphasize differences rather than homogenize them. i have a husband. you have a wife. both relationships are different and yet equal and celebrated for what they are. when we use terms like “partner” i feel we strip our relationships of some of their uniqueness and so some of what makes them special. using one term- two wives is the same as two husbands is the same as a husband + a wife isn’t equality in my mind. pretending that my life is the same as the lives of my black students isn’t equality. pretending male and female are the same isn’t equality. it’s celebrating the differences and acknowledging their individual value that makes something”equal.” (also, this is why i proudly used the word “fiance” when we were engaged. because i loved the uniqueness of those 6 months and didnt concern myself with the “usual” connotations of the word)’

    but that’s an awful lot of baggage and background-thought to bring to one term. and i’m glad this post made me think about it some more in a different light. definitely something to work through with thought.

  • This is insightful, funny and so honest. Well done. It’s amazing how much power words have and how even simple things like pronouns can hold so much control over a conversation. Lots to think about here. Thanks for being brave and writing this for us.

  • ele

    Among my friends / community / acquaintances here in Seattle, most couples I know, straight and queer, use “partner” to refer to their romantic partners. I like “partner” because it expressly implies equality in the relationship (whereas “husband” and “wife” have long-standing connotations of imbalanced power dynamics). Also, “partner” is undgendered, so it steps out of the binary; in a world where quite nearly everything seems to be gendered (cell phones! bicycle helmets! literature!), it is such a rare relief to have an unburdened, neutral word. I especially love it when straight/cis-gendered couples use “partner,” because, if the gender of the mentioned partner is unknown, that moment of double-take/mystery/confusion (which happens all the time to queer couples) falls upon a straight couple, and therefore sort of evens the playing field. Ideally, of course, it would be the other way around, where all relationships are affirmed and perceived as normative right off the bat – but until then, I’m willing to settle for having straight relationships given a little extra societal scrutiny.

    • meg

      Exactly. And that’s why we choose to use it.

  • loving this discussion. thank you, Miranda, for putting eloquent words to my own internal struggles with the term ‘wife’ that I have been searching for, for quite some time now.

  • Amy

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Mostly because I dont’ really like the word “wife,” because it has so much baggage attached to it, and it doesn’t really capture what I am to my husband, and what he is to me. I played with “spouse” and “partner” and didn’t feel either fit much better – though partner is best, and I grew up hearing my parents refer to each other as partners. “Consort” doesn’t really help the case for equality, but the thesaurus spits out another word I’m turning over in my mind, “helpmate.” I like the sound of it, but I’m sure strangers will give me odd looks if I start using it.

  • I love love love how this site consistently makes me think about really important things that I wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

    Personally, when I hear the term “partner,” my super-visual brain still tries to make a picture of that person and of the relationship in general. And until a gender is established, there’s a lot of this… “mental flickering,” for lack of a better term, which ends up distracting me. Weird, I know. I had no idea that I was making all those cultural assumptions about people’s relationships right off the bat, but apparently there’s something going on there!

    I like the working-together, we’re-a-team, supportive associations of “partner” though, which, the more I think about it, describe my fiance and I really well. Maybe I should start trying it out.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I like that you pointed out some of the good connotations in the word partner. A lot of people have mentioned that it sounds dry or implied a business relationship, but outside of a romantic relationship the first “partner” relationship I think of is between police officers. Maybe because my FIL is a retired cop and still refers to every officer he shared a car with as “my old partner”.

      I think the parallel – the foundation of trust, the promise to protect one another, the common purpose – is one I’m really happy to associate with my marriage.

  • Anna S

    I have my mother to thank for this, but I always have (and probably always will) used the word “spouse.”

    Backstory: In my house the word “wife” was always treated like a dirty word. In fact, when I was young, if I said “d*mn” or “sh*t” I got in trouble, but never as much trouble as if I (or my siblings) said “w*fe.”

    My mother* HATES the word wife. Before she married she had no problems with it, but after she married she found that she stopped being a person and started only being someone’s wife. (Ex. From: “This is NAME and NAME” to: “This is NAME and his wife.”) And it wasn’t just with new introductions or other things like that; it was with old friends, his family, her family. She stopped having a name and only became His Wife.

    Therefore, my parents have always been each other’s spouse.

    This loss of identity permanently put a ban on the word in my house, and my mother still cringes to hear it, even on TV. As a child I would ask about someone’s “spouse” rather than their “husband” or “wife” and I still struggle with the word “wife” myself.

    The whole “Reclaiming Wife” discussion has, therefore, been of intense interest to me, but I can’t say that I feel any differently about the word (yet). I will probably never be okay enough with it to use it to refer to myself (or “husband” to my future spouse). I do think that there is still a stigma around the word “wife” that recalls the typical 50’s housewife, but I agree that “partner” can be confusing or emotionless. I have also experimented with “significant other” or “SO” for short, but that gets way too many raised eyebrows and I am sick of having to explain myself, so I generally revert to “spouse”.

    Sorry for the runaway comment!

    *Of course, my mother also is a feminist, independent thinker, and didn’t change her last name, as if any of that is a surprise.

    • meg

      I absolutely think there is still a lot of stigma around the word wife… hence the rather in-your-face title of “Reclaiming Wife.” I think I’ll nominate you to explain the term the next time someone gets upset with me about it ;)

  • Kate

    It’s just over a year, and I still struggle to be nonchalant about ‘my husband’. It feels simultaneously too personal and too old-fashioned.

    Maybe it’s the Brit in me, but I really like describing my husband as ‘my sweetheart’. Although more in informal settings! I sometimes use ‘my guy’, but that’s not non gendered, and like many here, I don’t feel it’s strangers’ business what gender B is.

    • while it’s definitely gendered, people don’t always think about how complicated gender is. i often think of my girlfriend as “my guy” (or “my mister,” which i *love*). but i’m still too shy about it to use them in conversation much ;)

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Ah, the term “wife.” Sigh. After almost two and a half years of marriage, this continues to be a loaded term for me that I use with two parts trepidation and one part confidence. It is a word that I negotiate literally on a daily basis. I use the term “partner” as well, though not for political reasons. Sometimes, partner is what my husband is at that moment and symbolizes the essence of our relationship more than the term “husband.” Lately, I am feeling more and more like a “wife” and he more and more like a “husband” and I don’t particularly care for dynamic that brings into our marriage. Reclaiming this word is so important, but sometimes, it is so very difficult to do.

  • Jennifer

    Hi – first time commenter on APW. I just wanted to express my opinions on the subject and share my views.

    First, my sister and her wife had a commitment ceremony, and even though in our state their marriage is not legal, I still consider them married and her wife is my sister inlaw. They call each other wife because that’s what their comfortable with.

    Second, on using the word partners – my fiance and I have been engaged for almost 8 years now. So, I stopped calling him my fiance to people I first meet a long time ago to dodge the “Oh when’s the wedding!?!” questions and getting that look when I tell them we haven’t planned it yet. I don’t need to explain why we haven’t gotten married yet, but know that we will when the timing is right for us, not everyone else. But then I feel like a 12 year old when I call him my boyfriend, so I started calling him my partner. So then they automatically assume I’m LGBT. But you know what? I realized it’s none of their business what my personal life is, and I offer no explinations to people who mean nothing to me.

    Anyway, those are just my experiences.

  • Anonymom

    Verrrry interesting post and discussion. When we married (a very long time ago) neither of us changed our names or titles – there were already Mrs. XYZs and one was my mother and one was my husband’s. It was only a problem (for other people) when we moved to a much smaller town where titles were used to establish relationships. We spent a lot of time confirming that “yes, we were in fact married” trying not to add “and what business is it of yours???”. We didn’t get too bent about defining nouns – they really only showed up when we were introducing one another to new people and we mostly used either one another’s given name or nickname when referring each about the other. In the interest of TMI, I checked “wife” in my Shorter OED on Historical Principles. Defn. 1. : “A woman…” Pretty obvious!! “Partner”, defn. 1: “One who has a share or part with another…; a partaker, sharer.” Sounds like a definition of an ideal relationship, doesn’t it?

    • Ariel

      Hmm…I like that last bit. Not TMI at all.

      My fiance and I are already on the “partner” train (we live in an area where this is the norm), but I kind of like the idea of referring to him as “my partaker.”

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  • I’m LGBT, and we were using the word partner because we live together, and “girlfriend” doesn’t feel serious enough. But we are both lawyers, and at a work function once, she went to get us drinks, and I started talking to three of her colleauges. I introduced myself as her partner, and one of them said, “In the midtown office?” I said, “Uh, well, I do work in midtown, but I meant….. LIFE partner.” There was an extended silence and it was super-awkward, but there wasn’t really any way around it. So now we say “other half” at work events. It’s kind of dorky, but it’s much better than saying “LIFE partner” all the time, and it clarifies what our relationship is until we get to use the sweet, simple and completely loaded term “wife.”

    • Oooh, I kinda like “other half.”

      Seriousness of the relationship? Check.
      Won’t be mistaken for business? Check.
      Non-gendered? Check.
      Heartwarming? Double check. :)

    • meg

      Awkward but HILARIOUS story. I love it.

      Partner = yay
      Life Partner = Blergh

    • There’s a guy at my work who uses “other half” (or maybe “better half”?) when talking about his husband. I think it works pretty well, though I’m not about to start asking a coworker I’m not that close with about his lexical politics, even if I work at a very LGBTQ-friendly office.

      Side note, I also feel weird using the term fiance to describe my partner. Husband will feel much more solid and less flowery. Or maybe I’ll just call him my wife ;)

  • I, like many other commenters, had a hard time switching to using “my fiance” and then “my husband” for my spouse. Since Jason and I moved cross-country right after our wedding, we found ourselves very quickly in a lot of social situations where we needed to introduce each other. The first time I tried to say, “And this is my husband, Jason,” it came out as “And this is my Jason.” And that’s what I stuck with for awhile until the terms could settle into my head a bit more. (Most of the time, these days, I just say, “And this is Jason.” Because he’s his own person first and not just his relationship to me…)

    • Exactly! I couldn’t get it out of my mouth at first either…. “my husband” made me feel like I was playing house. Like, am I really an adult already? I pretty much do what you do now too. “This is Michael” is totally acceptable.

  • I just got married in December and am in a heterosexual relationship but I love the times when I would hear someone refer to their partner or spouse and my brain would immediately sprial into, are they gay? are they straight? does this change how I perceive them? and then I would mentally bitch slap myself and try to challenge how their statement of partner or spouse made me think and feel. I like to do that to others too. Yes I am in a heterosexual relationship but if he’s not here and I refer to him as spouse and then you find out he’s a man, what is your brain’s immediate reaction? I think we need to push the boundaries of perception more. Also, husband sounds kind of old to me (we’re 22) and being called wife makes me think 50’s housewife.

  • Shotgun Shirley


    My legal-and-9-days-from-(church)”official”-husband and I find “partner” very romantic, because of all it encompasses: so much more than the 50s housewife meaning of wife, it ups the ante in the significance and ramifications of the role.

  • devlyn

    Just from reading everyone’s comments, I’m really interested to bring this up with my partner/finace tonight. I’ve been choking on the word finance ever since we got engaged (it immediately pops Elaine Benes into my head with “maybe the dingo ate your baby!” – if you don’t know it, youtube it). I’d love to call the relationship pronoun something different, but the boyfriend thing irks me.
    All of my gay married friends call their spouses either wife or husband, so I just haven’t really thought of this before. Hrm….

  • Willow

    In New Zealand instead of allowing gay marriage, the government introduced civil unions, which both homosexual and heterosexual couples are able to enter into. All of the rights are exactly the same, and my partner and I have chosen to have a civil union. As neither of us is religious, and both of us were children of marriages that had pretty short expiry dates, this new institution felt like a way for us to begin our family in an inclusive and representative way. We felt that by choosing a civil union we would be joining increasing numbers of other heterosexual couples doing so, and thus would work towards making CUs a universal institution. We figure, if marriage is out of bounds for some, we are at least lucky to have an option that is inclusive.

    This post has made me reflect on how much language plays a part in our experiences. My family were worried because they thought it meant we couldn’t call it a wedding. Writing the ceremony has been tricky sometimes. We don’t really know how exactly to describe ourselves in this new way, and I am sure our families are scratching their heads wondering if they can call us ‘Joe’s new wife’, or ‘Willow’s new husband’…. Partner is obviously a nice safe choice for everyone. And as I said to the future mother-in-law, “I’ll still be your daughter-in-law”. And at the end of the day, we are celebrating a union, whatever we might call it.

    • Sara

      even though Vermont led the way with civil unions here in the states, hetero relationships like mine couldn’t have one, and I always felt that was kind of a rip off because of just this reason. I’d wanted to have an option which was open to everyone regardless of sexuality, religion, or anything else… But now it is one of the states that lets everyone marry – which makes me even more happy to have married here recently (and we both got great joy checking the “spouse” box rather than husband or wife on our license!)

  • I know others have already pointed out these lines, but AMEN!, Miranda:

    “I am hoping that someone will see me, and realize I’m married to a woman, and that my marriage hasn’t threatened theirs, and maybe realize that marriage equality is important enough for them to fight for as an ally.”

    Here’s to hoping that day is tomorrow. Or yesterday. Round up the allies.

  • Cassandra

    Here’s to saying ‘wife’ or ‘partner’, whichever the moment calls for, as long as it’s said with love and happiness. I read this piece early this morning getting ready for a horrifying advanced statistics class and you (and the super sweet pictures of you and your lovely lady) brightened what was doomed to be a lousy morning.

    I admit, I have a little secret thrill when Boy says something about his “future wife” or when I have the opportunity for a similar phrasing. And in day to day interactions amongst ourselves, it’s not uncommon for me to refer to him as “Boyfriend” (but I swear I don’t say that in public!). I never thought about it too much in terms of keeping things gender neutral in my relationship, but I take special care to use whatever term others use. Now that I think of it though, I’d almost always be using the names of the couple in question as opposed to “so and so and their wife/husband/significant other/etc” because that’s a rather loaded sentence construction in my opinion. I’m happy to call Boy boyfriend for now, and I am excited to call him whatever else he becomes in the future, and I’m happy to let other couples make the choices that fit for them regardless of their relationship status because it sure as heck isn’t my business!

  • I loved this post (and the comments and discussion it provoked) the most.

  • Awwww, Miranda!! LOVE THIS POST. I love how you’ve thought about it, how you’ve mulled it over, how you have reflected on the why’s of what you’re doing. Awesome self-reflection, there.

    And I LOVE what you’re saying about partner and wife. As a bisexual woman married to a man (one she has been dating since BEFORE she realized she was bisexual), marriage is a real pain in the ass. It was very important to me that I reflect on why we were getting married, and the cultural implications of that. The why was easy: because I love my husband. Because we have been together ten long, tough, wonderful years, and I’m pumped for the next decades.

    The further implications were hard and still are hard. As for the broader LGBTQ context, I wrote a piece on marriage equality that our minister read during our ceremony, and I wore a white ribbon around my wrist. We almost donated to the HRC as our favor, but we decided against it (if it’s a “gift” to our guests, we don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable). And I love the way you’re fighting– that you are a wife and have a wife, that you are a partner and have a partner. I’m still figuring out how to define myself and be fully open about myself in the context of a very heteronormative marriage. I’m a wife, I have a husband, but things aren’t as clear-cut as they seem. Not easy, but worth the fight.

  • Moz

    This is such a beautiful, generous post. Thank you so much for writing it and congrats on your marriage xx

  • Christy A.

    There is so much heart and truth in this piece…the first RW piece that made me tear up. Thanks for letting us into a little bit of your life as a wife who has a wife.


  • This has been an awesome and lovely thread! This blog has been a touchstone for me with the Big Issues and the wedding planning. Thanks to all you APW writers & readers.

    After 10+ months of being engaged, my *partner* asked me if we could drop “fiance/e” and use “partner” instead, specifically as a way of “flying the flag.” And it’s been awesome! I’d never liked fiance/e, and always thought it sounded a little too dainty-sounding for our relationship. To me, *fiance* felt attention-whorish, and conjured visions of color-scheme-planning and centerpieces and tulle — when really, our *parentership* is more about getting the laundry done and who picks up the dog’s poop this morning? and providing rock-solid emotional support through PTSD and nightmares and hugs during depressed days, etc. etc. You know? You know.

    Until reading this post I always felt a little silly that I was thinking about labels so much, but this thread has been gratifying. Whenever I drop “partner” into a conversation I get a juvenile little thrill (“Yeah, you don’t know my person’s gender! What now, huh?!”), and the bonus is that I don’t get peppered with annoying & irrelevant wedding-foofery-oriented questions. The word choice refocuses the conversation on our commitment to each other, and our relationship together — not whether Partner has a wee-wee or a hee-hee, and not what kind of flowers we’re going to have at our wedding/union ceremony/party, because none of that crap is a) the point or b) anyone else’s business but ours. Plus, I just love to see people stop and think for a second — especially with strangers when my big, bearded, ex-Army-infantry-dude refers to his “partner.” ;D

    Along LGBTQ lines: my best friend got married last month in a *beautiful* ceremony in Massachusetts. It was a two-wife wedding, and bless their hearts, they held the ceremony in the very public lobby of the airport hotel. Passers-by stopped, stared, cried a little happy cry, cheered, clapped, and hopefully broadened their perspectives a little bit. Both women wore beautiful (blue!) dresses, wore flowers in their hair, were otherwise true to themselves and to each other, and are now “wife”ing it up. It was a privilege to be part of that ceremony: cheers to Massachusetts, Vermont, & their ilk, and may the feds get off their hands and join the party ASAP.

  • Cindy

    Well, I truly hate the word “partner” because, as many have pointed out, it seems so dry, but I’m going to reconsider it after this discussion. If it becomes more universally used (by all you lovely straight allies) I think that would be superb. At present, at least in my world, partner = same sex, which I don’t think is especially helpful.

    I had somewhat of an opposite experience as Miranda with “fiancee” and “wife”. After having a “girlfriend” it was a delightful change to switch to “fiancee” when we got engaged… except that it put us both back in that place of having to awkwardly correct everyone who then assumed that we were marrying men. (Which was, of course, only new acquaintances.) Annoying. And then they get all embarrassed for having assumed that… etc.

    So we have fully embraced “wife” since getting married, because it is so definitive. I find it so much easier to just have it out there in the first place than to have to wait until a pronoun is used and interrupt whatever conversation you’re in the middle of to discuss it. (I suppose if I was traveling through a less tolerant area or something, I might use partner to avoid any issues. But here in the big city… we only have haters when there’s a protest on.)

  • Alexandra

    Hooray. Love this thread. Am partnered with a man, and definitely use the term partner, partly because we’ve been together for years, long before engagement, partly as a political act. Also, “my sweetie”, sometimes SO or Other Half. I saw Taller Half somewhere, thought that was fun. :P

  • Diana


    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been working through the APW archives over the last several weeks and just arrived here–and I am so grateful. This has been in the back of my mind since I proposed to my lady (which is what I usually call her) a month ago. I’ve been struggling with the implications of all of the options, and had convinced myself that using the word “wife” would mean I was buying into heteronormative models of partnership (it’s amazing the pressure we put on ourselves, isn’t it?). Hearing your perspective was so helpful. Thank you.

  • Adrianna

    This article is amazing there was just one sentence with which I took issue. “It’s only marriage when it’s federally recognized, so why bother in just one state.” Not only is that sad it’s wrong. Of course the federal government needs to recognize all marriages as legal and repeal DOMA I’m not trying to say otherwise. But MANY aspects of our day to day lives are left up to the individual states and stronger state’s rights mean smaller federal government and a more direct government (which I think is good but is not really my point). States need to take a stand to defend their citizens because while the feds could repeal DOMA tomorrow they can’t force the states to recognize same sex marriages. However if enough states have marriage equality then the federal government will be under extraordinary pressure to act accordingly. And speaking as someone from a state that not only bans same sex marriage but also bans same sex civil unions, I want something done now and the states can move faster and don’t need as many people to agree as compared to similar legislation at the federal level. And this is turning into a novel and so in conclusion, please don’t take success at the state level as a hollow victory and please don’t give up at the state level.